Natural gas utilities must regularly maintainthe underground pipes and equipment inmunicipalities across the country. “That’swhy many gas distribution companies arefocused on developing evermore efficientmethods for accessing those pipes, imple-menting better tools for the maintenanceand inspection of newer gas mains and lat-eral service lines, and improving their prac-tices for locating pipes, repairing patchesand core sampling,” points out GordReynolds, Enbridge Gas Distribution’sManager, Keyhole Technology.The most promising tool in their toolkit is acost-efficient family of technologies andtechniques that allow companies to workon underground pipes from above. It’scalled Keyhole technology, and it has beenin development for more than a decade atEnbridge Gas Distribution.Gas utilities traditionally use conventionalpavement breaking methods such as jack-hammers or concrete-breakers to obtain access to pipes that needmaintenance or repair. If necessary, they shore up the hole and puta person into the excavation to do the work. Once they’ve com-pleted the job, they fill the open excavation with clean granularbackfill and top it off with a ‘cold patch’ of tar or asphalt.Eventually, a paving contractor arrives and patches the area withconcrete, leaving a rectangular 2' x 4' (0.8 metres x 1.2 metres)scar on the road. The process can take anywhere from severaldays to months.Keyhole technology, in contrast, deploys a single specialized truckto the site. It’s equipped with special Keyhole coring equipment –a powerful core saw, made of carbide or diamond bits – thatcarves out a round core up to 24" (0.61 metres) deep and 18" (0.5metres) in diameter. This saw can cut through just about any pave-ment, sidewalk or road, from asphalt to reinforced concrete. “Jack-hammering 18" (0.5 metres) of reinforced concrete would normallytake 45 minutes to an hour,” says Enbridge Gas Distribution’s FieldManager Bill Elliott. “We can core it out in about 15 to 20 minutes.And that’s not even considering the difference in ergonomicsbetween operating a jackhammer and operating a drill switch. Itsaves on the body.”Crews remove the solid core and use vacuum excavation tools to suckout the dirt and debris until they can see the main pipe – in some casesup to four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 metres) down. Then they repair thepipe from the surface with specialized long-handled tools.A piercing tool used by Enbridge’s crew may be only one to seveninches (2.5 to 17.8 cm) in diameter, but it is designed to stay oncourse from the surface, through difficult soils or obstructions. “It’sbasically a piston within a casing, equipped with a spring-loadedchisel head,” explains Dan Ferguson, President of Footage Tools, aconstruction tool manufacturing company. “Compressed air drivesthe chisel head forward from the main casing at a rate of approxi-mately nine times per second. This creates a pilot bore that can beup to 150' (45.7 metres) long for the tool to follow, ensuring a highdegree of accuracy. The body of the tool maintains a solid positionand direction in the ground. The head moves independently like asmall jackhammer and its stepped cone head design can pene-trate any pipe.”When they’ve completed their repairs or maintenance work, thecrew reinserts the core into the original hole. Frequently, they areable to re-use the materials previously removed. Finally, they per-manently re-bond the core into the pavement with a special adhe-sive material proprietary to Enbridge Gas Distribution.
Keyhole technology: a solidsolution for our road surfaces
Crews deploy specialized Keyhole coring equipment.Continued on next page